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The Day I Discovered I Was Doing My Job For Free

May 26, 2017

How well do you like your job? I’ve had jobs that I really enjoyed. I’ve had jobs that I couldn’t wait to leave. My current job falls into the first category. Even if you really love your job, would you work for free? I didn’t think I would. My philosophy has always been:

I’m working so I can have the resources to support my family.

It’s not that I don’t enjoy my job, but it’s not where I get my affirmation. It could end tomorrow and I’d just go find another one. I quit marrying my jobs a long time ago.

Which is why I was surprised to discover I was lying to myself. I was wrong about the whole “would you work for free” question. I’d always assumed that if I won the lottery, I’d quit my job, buy a boat and spend more time on the coasts. See? I wouldn’t still work!

But, that’s not the question. It’s not about winning the lottery. It’s about the little things we do; the checking email after dinner, the travelling on a weekend for a business trip, the idea of looking at what needs to be done and doing it rather than watching the clock. It’s about the times you don’t have to work but you choose to anyway. In that case, would you work for free?

And I discovered the answer to that question last weekend during a hiking trip to the mountains. I’m the on-call guy for my position. . .always. I literally don’t have an “off” time. I “own” four call centers across the United States. Some of them take calls 24 hours per day. If something goes wrong with the computers or the software I’m the guy they call. And I’m pretty good at my job.

I used to have peers. Seriously, I was part of a team of account managers. Each of us was responsible for one of our large accounts. We changed my role because I wasn’t like them. Either because of my personality, or the requirements of my client, I was much more involved than my peers.

But, no one is available literally around the clock. And I love hiking and camping. You think you have trouble getting cell phone reception in your city? Try getting it surrounded by slot canyons and mountains. During the times I don’t think I’ll have good reception, I have a backup. Last weekend was one of those times. We were hiking up a canyon and camping between the range of foothills and the larger mountains behind us. We occasionally had glimpses of the valley down the canyons.

As we were hiking on the face of Mt Timpanogos, my phone rang. It was one of my centers reporting that they were having a technical issue. What should I do? I had a backup lined up. I could let him take the call.

I took the call. At the time, I wasn’t sure why. Was it an overinflated martyr complex? Was I a glutton for punishment? Was it a refusal to give up control?

I didn’t think too much about it at the time. It was a beautiful day. I found a comfortable log to sit on just off the trail. I was in the middle of a gorgeous meadow with truly amazing views in every direction. The other boy scout leaders took our troop of scouts to hike a nearby peak. I put my headphones in, and enjoyed my lunch as we worked through the technical issue which had spread to all 4 of my call centers.

The scouts returned before we resolved the issue.

Yeah, this is Rodney. I’m going to start heading down this canyon and I know I’m going to lose reception. It’s 2.5 miles to the trailhead and I figure that should take me about 90 minutes. I’ll dial back in when I get done. If you need something in the mean time, call my backup.

And with that, I followed the scouts off the mountain and down Battle Creek Canyon. It was a short drive home from the canyon and I came in and went straight to my office to rejoin the outage call. It was another couple of hours before we finally got it wrapped up and I could start unpacking and take a shower.

Why had I taken that call? I didn’t have to. It was a Saturday. I was literally in the wilderness and I had a backup all lined up and ready to help.

Finally, the answer hit me. It wasn’t because of any need for control, or to feel like a martyr. I honestly loved my job. That afternoon sitting in the meadow, rather than feeling like work or stressful was extremely calming. I had a great time.

Did I get paid any more because I took that call?

Was anyone extra impressed because I interrupted my day in the mountains?

Was I going to get those hours back?

Nope. It was a fairly typical call. One that I’ve taken dozens of times. The setting was a little different, but overall, it was just another day at the office. And if you love what you do, it feels more like play and less like work.

Would I be willing to work for free?

I think I just did.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

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(c) 2017 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

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